One month after Tara Cherwony assumed her position as chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s NextGen group, Israel was attacked by Hamas.
The NextGen group, which convenes community members ages 21-45 to connect socially and philanthropically, is on high alert as antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric continue to rise. Many of the NextGen members have close friends and family who are on college campuses, which have been disproportionately affected by high numbers of antisemitic incidents according to multiple sources.
Cherwony, who grew up locally and has been involved with NextGen for six years, knew what she had to do, stepping up fearlessly to help the next generation of Jewish leaders navigate their distress and use this as an opportunity to educate their non-Jewish peers.
We spoke with Cherwony to learn more about her, her vision for NextGen and what it means to her to lead her community through this time of intense grief.
When did you first join NextGen and what drew you to the group?
I joined NextGen in 2017 as a participant of the Leadership Development Program. At the time, I was transitioning out of a professional role at a Jewish nonprofit and into higher education, so I was looking for new ways to engage with the Jewish community. I was attracted to NextGen’s programming and leadership development opportunities as a way to give back and get involved with a young professional affinity group.
How does it feel to be the new chair of NextGen?
I have loved every moment of my NextGen experience and after serving for four years on NextGen’s Executive Board, and the past two years as co-vice chair, it was an honor to become the next chair. NextGen has given me so much, and now as chair I hope to provide those opportunities and experience to my peers. I came into NextGen at a time when I was really finding myself as a young adult, and now at 30, this new role marks my growth as a person and leader.
As the new chair of NextGen, what do you envision for the group? What do you hope to accomplish?
The last few years we were hit with limitations due to COVID-19. This year, I plan to focus on rebuilding our events calendar and I hope to find meaningful ways to engage young families and to encourage NextGen members to get involved in other areas of the Jewish Federation. I envision NextGen being the organization for young people in our community whether they are 22 or 45, or live in the city or the suburbs. I want people to know NextGen is a place for them.
Can you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style as participative. I have always been one to listen to people first and that is how I am with my board. I am not the only person in NextGen, and it is important for me to hear the voices of not only our board, but also our current, past, and future NextGen members. I am always open to ideas and feedback and enjoy working with others to come up with a solution and create inclusive and meaningful opportunities.
How are you stepping up as a leader of the next generation of Jews to support Israel during this crisis?
During the last few weeks, I have had an opportunity to step up as a leader in several meaningful ways. I contributed to the Jewish Federation’s emergency relief fund and have been encouraging my peers to do the same, I’ve attended marches and rallies in the Philadelphia area, and I have had many hard yet inspiring conversations with my peers both Jewish and non-Jewish. I’ve had the opportunity to create safe spaces for others to share their thoughts and feelings and have been a resource for those looking to get more involved in our community during this time. I was also fortunate enough to bring the NextGen board together for our first meeting of the year where we began with some reflection and a listening circle. I left that meeting feeling very inspired and hopeful, and I know our board members did as well.
You’re very involved in the Jewish community and giving back. Besides NextGen, what other groups are you part of?
It has always been important for me to give back to the Jewish community and I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given to do so. Within the Jewish Federation, I am a member of Women of Vision and Women’s Philanthropy and serve on the Campaign Team and the Planning and Resourcing Commission. This is my fifth year serving on Drexel Hillel’s board of directors and I am currently the chair of their Alumni Engagement Committee. I also serve on The Jewish Relief Agency’s board of directors where I chair their Leadership Academy Committee and sit on several other committees including Volunteer Engagement and Strategic Planning. I am also a member of the Anti Defamation League’s Education Committee and served on their associate board from 2021-2023. I actively participate in programming and have served on committees for several other Jewish organizations as well.
Why is it so meaningful for you to give back to your community?
My first job was at Federation Early Learning Services where I was their development and communications associate. This role opened my eyes to all of the different ways to give back to our community. Being a young professional, I have equally donated my time and my dollars, and recognize how important both of those are. I would not be who I am today without many experiences provided by our community and that’s what makes giving back meaningful to me.
Why should young people join NextGen?
NextGen offers so many unique opportunities for young people. We have leadership development, social, volunteer, social action/justice and philanthropic opportunities – there really is something for everyone! NextGen gives people an opportunity to give back while building community, and we are always looking to connect with young people who are interested in exploring that.
Why do you give to the Jewish Federation?
I give to the Jewish Federation because they have given so much to me. I grew up in Cheltenham, and the Jewish Federation has been present my entire life. The Jewish Federation allowed me to attend BBYO programs as a high schooler, travel to Israel for the first time as a Satell Teen Fellow for Leadership and Social Activism, and so much more. Being able to give back is really an honor. It is also important for me to continue building a sustainable future for the Jewish community of Greater Philadelphia.
What is something people may not know about you?
I am a wedding officiant! I have officiated three weddings and am looking forward to officiating a fourth next year. This wedding will be extra special to me because it is a couple I set-up at a NextGen singles event in 2020. So I guess you can say I am also a matchmaker!
On Nov. 30, NextGen will come together as a community at the Fitler Club. To register, visit jewishphilly.org/fitler.
Interested in joining NextGen? Contact NextGen Director Susan Allen at [email protected] or 215-832-0505.